The Science of Love: Flying in the Face of Self-Sufficiency


Love does not have to be a mystery of trial and error, there is a science to it! Research has demonstrated the dynamics of attachment styles, how love affects us personally, and how to create secure attachments. We know that love can be difficult and that it can be wonderful. We also know that it can produce in us the most intense feelings–both positive and negative. Love has the potential to help us be the most safe, secure, and happy we have ever been, and yet also has the potential to have us be the most hurt, betrayed, heartbroken, and miserable.

Some believe that it is better to be alone, that being alone is less painful and creates more independence. There is truth to that argument, but it isn’t the whole truth. Believe it or not, the opposite is also true. We can be more independent by developing trust and security in a relationship. Having a secure attachment and depending on one another actuallyfosters independence.

Years ago, John Bowlby noted this idea in his studies with children. Children exhibited more independent behaviors (such as exploration) when a caregiver was present. When there was a secure attachment, the children were relaxed and free to explore; they became more independent.

This same concept applies in our relationships.The more secure we are, the more independent we can be. Sounds contradictory right?

“The more we reach out to our partners, the more separated and independent we can be. Although this flies in the face of our culture’s creed of self-sufficiency, psychologist Brooke Feeney of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh found exactly that in observations of 280 couples. Those who felt that their needs were accepted by their partners were more confident about solving problems on their own and were more likely to successfully achieve their own goals. “

So, Secure Attachment → More Independence!

The physical experience of pain is uniquely tied with our relationships. In a recent study, people had their pain measured when electrically shocked. When a stranger held the hand of the person shocked the amount of pain experienced was less than when alone. When that person’s significant other held the subject’s hand the amount of pain experienced changed dramatically. For those with insecure attachments, the amount of pain experienced was higher than when the subject was alone. After going through therapy and creating a secure attachment, the amount of pain experienced was much less than when alone.

What happened? Secure Attachment → Less Pain

Initially, couples were insecurely attached, and there was no emotional safety. When they were near each other, the brain would be sending signals of alarm which increased the experience of pain. But through therapy, the feelings were repaired and secure attachments were created. This safety, trust, and comfort felt by the subject made the experience of pain much less in the experiment!

This kind of thing is likely something you have observed in your life. Have you ever seen a child scrape her knee and run crying to a parent, only to feel better moments after being held and comforted? The safety of secure attachment actually decreases the physical experience of pain! On the flip side, if there was an insecure attachment with a parent, the child would experience more physical pain. Such a child may react with avoidance, and not seek comfort from the parent.

This phenomenon also happens with couples. Some couples break up to avoid further pain and heartache. Others may stay in the relationship, but become emotionally withdrawn. Oftentimes people become stuck in a pattern of behavior that prevents them from connecting emotionally, which also prevents them from having a secure attachment.

Let me illustrate with an example:

John avoids confrontation, not wanting to fight with his girlfriend, Jane. Jane then feels like John doesn’t care because he is avoiding her (when really it may be his way of trying to protect the relationship). Jane’s hurt turns to frustration, and she engages John in an argument about her hurt feelings. John doesn’t feel safe talking about feelings, and is hurt that Jane is getting on his case. This is frustrating to John, so he withdraws and tries avoiding confrontation. This again hurts Jane, and she doesn’t feel like he cares. This cycle either continues or hits a breaking point, where either John or Jane explode and say or do hurtful things which they may later regret. Each of them wants security and love, but each views it differently and goes about it differently. Jane wants to feel connection by having John hear and listen to her. John wants to feel connection, by being accepted for who he is, not attacked or criticized.

Getting stuck in patterns like this prevents people from becoming vulnerable with one another. But it is vulnerability that can nourish a secure bond.

Sound familiar? Here are some things you can do.

Emotionally Focused Therapy— Even if you aren’t having problems, but just want a closer relationship with your partner, the best advice I can give is to see an EFT couple’s therapist. If you ARE having problems, Emotionally Focused Therapy has the potential to help you the most. Therapy may be costly, but the effects can last for a lifetime, and it is well worth the investment. (It is also much cheaper than divorce).

Books—There are self-help books that can help you and your partner connect. Check out Amazon for workbooks and educational books about emotionally focused therapy or books written by Sue Johnson.

Be vulnerable—Validate your partner’s emotions and attachment needs, and communicate your own underlying emotions and attachment needs. This is easier said than done, but it is well worth the emotional strength that it produces.

Secure attachments apply to your friends and family as well. The stronger your support network, the better off you are. Having secure attachments decreases pain and increases independence. In my opinion, it is perhaps the best coping mechanism we have as human beings to go through the trials of life.

Courtesy: Forward Walking
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